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The Escalante Canyons Workshop - Part 1 - From Egypt to Neon

Updated: Dec 4, 2022

In 2022, our annual photography workshop explored Fence, Neon, and Choprock canyons. In this post, I talk a little about that workshop and share some of my photos from the canyons. The 2023 workshop (which visits different canyons) is scheduled for April. For further information and to join us, click here. Also in this post, a comparison of iPhone scouting images with "final" photos. More photos of Choprock and Neon Canyons can be found in this website here.

After an orientation in Boulder, a quick introduction to everyone's work, and an afternoon of photography at the origins of Sand Creek and Death Hollow on Hell's Backbone, we packed our gear for the llamas to carry to camp. The next morning, we were driven to the trailhead at Egypt. From that vantage point, a sandstone sea spread out in front of us. Somewhere in the distance—1,000 feet lower, but close to the thin, horizontal green line of cottonwoods that marked the course of the Escalante River—was our camp in Fence Canyon.

The Henry Mountains rose above the eastern horizon. I pointed out the large domes of rock marking the entrances to Neon and Choprock Canyons—both tributaries to the Escalante. Then we started down the steep slickrock.

VIEW FROM EGYPT. Just east of the trailhead at Egypt, the rocky plateau suddenly ends. Broken pieces of rock from the eroding plateau litter the slopes. Gullies and canyons quickly form in the slickrock and channel rainwater to the Escalante River canyon. Cell Phone Photo.

SEA OF ROCK. Further down the slickrock slope, several workshop participants are seen on the lower right corner of the photo. The Henry Mountains are peeking above the horizon in the distance. Cell Phone Photo.

The fact that llamas would carry all we would need for 5 days of comfortable camping in the wilderness freed us up to carry only our own photo equipment, water, and lunch. Our llama wrangler and his assistant would load up the llamas at the trailhead and lead them to camp where we would join them later that afternoon.

LLAMAS ARRIVE AT CAMP. The first of the llamas arrive at camp in lower Fence Canyon. A couple of the workshop participants have already arrived. The rest are still out photographing. Cell Phone Photo.

After setting up our tents and arranging our belongings in the space we would call home for for the next 5 days, we sat comfortably in chairs provided by the outfitter and then enjoyed a prepared meal and good conversation.

The following morning, we left camp and headed a mile and a half down the Escalante River Canyon to Neon. The Escalante River takes a serpentine course through its canyon—snaking from wall to wall—so the hike to Neon required several knee-deep water crossings. Along the way, we passed a large panel of petroglyphs on the canyon wall, then entered a long stretch of shady river terrace before the junction with Neon.

Cottonwood trees flourish along the river. Their graceful, pale-gray tree trunks and fresh green leaves contrast nicely with the red sandstone walls of the river canyon, making them almost an irresistible subject for a photo. In the even (but bluish) light of shade, we stopped to photograph.

As I often do, I used my cell photos as an aide to composition and color.

RED WALLS AND COTTONWOODS. In the shade of red canyon walls, the copse of cottonwoods with their fresh leaves of spring caught my attention. Cell Phone photo.

RED WALLS AND COTTONWOODS. Even though the iPhone—with its computational abilities—generally does an excellent job, I felt the color and contrast it rendered here was bluer and harsher than my perception at the time. I prefer open shadows in my photographs where possible. The great dynamic range of the modern digital camera enabled me to hold detail in all areas of this photo. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

After perhaps half an hour photographing the irresistible cliché of "green cottonwood leaves in front of red wall of Wingate sandstone," we moved on.

It would be easy to pass right by the entrance to Neon Canyon if you weren't paying attention. Cottonwoods along the Escalante River block the view of the canyon and the little stream in Neon exits the canyon along the far wall. However, knowing the route well, I guided the group up a sandy hill to the entrance of Neon.

COTTONWOOD AT NEON'S ENTRANCE. Weathered cottonwood tree at the entrance to Neon Canyon. Cell phone photo.

COTTONWOOD AT NEON'S ENTRANCE. Slightly closer view with tripod-mounted digital camera. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

Next post - Up Neon Canyon to the Golden Cathedral.


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